Manchester City begin their title defence away at north London as they lock horns with Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
Tottenham Hotspur’s bid to return to the pinnacle, this time under the leadership of Nuno Espirito Santo and managerial director Fabio Paratici is set to kickstart on Sunday when they play hosts to Manchester City.
It is a daunting first challenge for Nuno, in particular, as he looks to guide a largely disintegrated squad into a safe passage up against the reigning English champions.
The Lilywhites are coming on the back of a mixed pre-season that saw them fail to win against Leyton Orient and Chelsea. But their preparations were more about the transfer market than performances, having roped in no less than three quality players so far whilst still keeping hold of Harry Kane.
Incidentally, Manchester City are in pole position to land the English international this summer. Although there is work to be done on that front, the Citizens are heading into this season as the undisputed favourites to lift the Premier League title once again.
Pep Guardiola’s men have had a relatively decent pre-season, but a bitter defeat to Leicester City in the Community Sheild played its part to dampen the mood. They are, nevertheless, heading into this game, hoping to gain all three points and kick-start their title defence on a positive note.
And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of their blockbuster encounter at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this weekend.
Team News & Tactics
It isn’t all too difficult to predict the Tottenham lineup this weekend, as a host of their key players are lacking match fitness. That list includes two new signings Cristian Romero and Bryan Gil, as well as wantaway forward Harry Kane.
The Giovani Lo Celso, Joe Rodon and Harry Winks have also had very little pre-season game-time. As such, Nuno Espirito Santo could fancy starting Japhet Tanganga, Eric Dier, Davinson Sanchez and Sergio Reguilon in the back four, with Hugo Lloris starting in goal.
Nuno likes Tanganga due to his versatility. He can easily shift between a centre-back and a fullback, which makes it easier for Spurs to switch to a back three, seeing the youngster joining Sanchez and Dier in central defence.
Reguilon, meanwhile, should operate as a fully-fledged attacking fullback. His offensive work rate should be critical to Tottenham’s forward play, as he looks to offer width and support to Steven Bergwijn out on the left flank.
Lucas Moura should operate on the right, with Dele Alli and Son Heung-Min occupying the central positions. Alli, in particular, is a favourite to start ahead of Lo Celso, who has had very little time to settle ahead of this new season. As for Tanguy Ndombele, he is set for another complete ostracisation, this time by Nuno.
And finally, in midfield, the Portuguese tactician may continue to lay his trust on Oliver Skipp. In pre-season, the young midfielder has been preferred to Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko and is poised to start alongside Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in the double-pivot this weekend.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Tanganga, Sanchez, Dier, Reguilon; Skipp, Hojbjerg; Lucas, Alli, Bergwijn; Son
Pep Guardiola won’t be dealt with too many injury problems heading into this game, with Phil Foden the only player currently sidelined. However, many of his players are lacking match fitness, including the Euro 2020 participants Raheem Sterling, Kyle Walker, Aymeric Laporte and John Stones, while Kevin De Bruyne has recently recovered from a knock.
None of these players are likely to start, meaning Manchester City could be set for a more or less similar shape that started in the Community Shield against Leicester City.
In fact, the only defensive change may come in the shape of Ederson replacing Zack Steffen in goal. He will be protected by the central defensive duo of Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake, with additional support from the fullbacks Benjamin Mendy and Joao Cancelo.
Against a Tottenham side managed by Nuno, control will be key for Manchester City. As such, Guardiola could recall the services of Bernardo Silva in midfield. He should offer more security in possession as well as the creative oomph in the final third, while Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri should operate in a more traditional midfield role.
As for the attacking department, the likes of Gabriel, Sterling and Foden are likely unavailable. Hence, Ferran Torres could once again be given the mantle to spearhead the Man City frontline, with additional support from Riyad Mahrez and new signing Jack Grealish, who is poised to make his starting debut for his new club.
Most of Guardiola’s options on the bench are largely built up of academy prospects, so it is essential that these star players deliver the goods on Sunday.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Ederson; Cancelo, Dias, Ake, Mendy; Silva, Rodri, Gundogan; Mahrez, Torres, Grealish
- Tottenham have faced Manchester City in their opening top-flight match of the season on three previous occasions, losing none of those matches in 1990-91 (3-1), 1995-96 (1-1) and 2010-11 (0-0).
- Manchester City have lost 15 away Premier League matches against Spurs, including in the last two seasons, losing 2-0 in both matches. They have only lost more away Premier League matches against Liverpool (16).
- Manchester City have lost their last three away games against Tottenham in all competitions – against no other side has manager Pep Guardiola lost four away games in a row in his managerial career. Indeed, his four away defeats to Tottenham is joint-most he has suffered as a manager (level with Chelsea and Liverpool).
- Spurs lost 1-0 against Everton in their opening league match last season, last losing such matches in consecutive seasons in 2011-12 (0-3 vs Man United) and 2012-13 (1-2 vs Newcastle).
- Manchester City have won their first league match of the season in each of their last ten top-flight campaigns stretching back to 2011-12, the joint longest such run in the top-flight history alongside Aston Villa between 1891-92 and 1900-01.
Player to Watch
While the limelight will be on Manchester City’s new boy Jack Grealish, who recently shattered Premier League’s transfer record to move to Etihad, arguably the most important player in this exciting match-up is Son Heung-Min.
The South Korean international has been exemplary during the pre-season, scoring multiple goals and emerging as a real threat in the false nine role. Perhaps more importantly, at a time when the club is struggling to hold on to Harry Kane, Son offers a ray of hope for the fans, having committed himself to a long-term contract earlier this summer.
In many ways, the former Bayer Leverkusen forward is currently the face of the Tottenham team as they look to usher in a new era under the leadership of Nuno and Paratici. And his performance against Manchester City will go a long way in shaping his team’s fortunes in this game.
Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Manchester City
It is difficult to imagine Tottenham Hotspur securing a victory over Manchester City. However, now would be a great time to snatch at least a point as the Citizens are missing a host of their key players owing to lack of match fitness. The team hasn’t looked particularly dangerous either, notably stumbling to a defeat against Leicester City in the Community Shield.
Tottenham themselves haven’t looked any better, but they can offer strong resistance, thanks to the defence-oriented tactical philosophy of Nuno Espirito Santo. As such, we are expecting the two sides to share the spoils in this encounter.